So you've got a digital agency that’s headed in the right direction serving emerging industries and brands, but you realize your business needs more than just top-level young talent and award-winning client outcomes. It’s missing something that is a key ingredient for powerful, sustainable growth, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. You’re not alone. Many leaders in digital marketing agencies lose sleep because of these challenges. The answer isn’t “work harder.” That methodology is a short-term fix for a long-term problem. There’s a lot more to it than that.
As a career digital marketer and agency guy, I have seen first-hand what can cause agency acceleration and deceleration. Yes, that means shrinking revenues and potential layoffs, or increasing clients, and sustainable growth. All these below impact your bottom-line and top-line growth, image, brand, and profitability for good or not. Let’s take a look.
Perspective and Balance: In an industry chock full of young guns, your business needs perspective and balance, someone with deep business-level acumen and a broad industry base of experiential and client problem-solving ability. You can’t learn that overnight; it only comes with on-the-job successes and failures notched in the belt. The young guns are great, but the senior leadership is where the needed combination of skills comes from. Your business needs a tactical guide for the hands-on team for business development pitches, operational tactics, new product development, research and more.
Lack of an Agency Brand Roadmap: Since agencies consult with businesses to discover whom their clients really are, one would think the agency itself would know their own customer profile. This is not always the case. Understanding this and crafting a roadmap and marketing strategy that outlines how to effectively market is critical. This does include understanding your environmental factors, positive and negative.
“The most common decelerator that plagues digital agencies is carving out enough time to market their agency like they do for their clients. As the old saying goes ‘clients come first.’ Agencies struggle to manage high customer demands and leave enough time to market themselves.“ – Kevin Hourigan, President & CEO, Bayshore Solutions
Weak Business Development Push: The continual widening of the incoming pipeline for new business prospects is always a concern, regardless of the size of the business. For an agency, it could be the difference between investing in staff, resources, and technology needed to serve your clients or having to band-aid your approach. Also, weak closers are a curse to agencies. Why? Because your team has invested a lot of time and resources in prospecting and pitching. Closing at a higher rate is critical. Low closure rates can eventually mean extinction.
Slow Proposal Development Cycle: A weak bus-dev push can include slow turn rates on proposals. Make sure you have a streamlined process for crafting accurate proposals. Creating one-offs can be detrimental because of slow proposal churn. Also, make sure they are laser-specific to the prospective client’s needs and pain points. If the proposal does not address those, it will most likely be thrown in the trash. When that happens, it’s a killer blow to your team.
Understanding Customer Value Propositions: The agency has value propositions, but are they matching your customer value propositions? Make sure you identify each of your customer’s value propositions so you can then map those to the solutions you are offering. Once you identify these and match them, creating solutions for them will be easier. Then proving value to the client and understanding what that value is while tracking it can be used for case studies and sales enablement material.
Industry Vertical Expertise – Or Not: It’s easier to pitch a prospective customer when you can draw from your past experience from other client engagements. Those are low hanging fruit in business development. However, when your team has no experience in a particular industry vertical and you’re trying to pitch a prospective client, it is very hard to win the work. Let’s say you’ve won the work, now you have to figure out a way to become an expert. Be careful not to get sucked into verticals where you have no expertise and can't provide a solution profitably. Your team will most likely spend a lot more time trying to learn on the job… not a great way to be efficient and profitable.
Continual Research of Trends: This is more important that you may think. Because the digital economy and emergence of new technologies have thrust change upon all industries at a quicker pace than ever before, it’s very important to invest in your team’s knowledge of what’s happening in digital, technology and industries your agency serves. This knowledge will serve you well when pitching and producing work. You want to be known as the experts. That knowledge will help your team grow your agency’s thought leadership and revenue faster than ever.
Workflow Efficiency and Tracking of Billable Hours: Your agency team is hitting all the sales performance benchmarks and clients are happy. Congratulations, that is a huge accomplishment. But don’t forget, the faster you onboard new clients, the more frenetic the pace becomes, and mistakes happen. Take a hard look at workflow efficiencies from the business development team hand-off to the creative and digital teams. The hand-off is probably the first point where the ball is dropped. Additionally, tracking project hours for all billable staff on each project is critical, not only for assessment of margins but also for estimating time on future project proposals.
“It's important that you explain time tracking is not about a lack of trust; it's about making sure the company remains profitable.” - HubSpot
These are all common areas that cause revenue challenges quickly if not attended to. Here’s the good news. They are completely within your control. You have the ability to shape your future by putting a little time and effort into agency standards and operations. Soon, the decelerators will be a thing of the past and accelerators will be the driving force behind agency growth.